The longer you live in a place, the more you get to know it and one day you will reach a point when you can only shrug your shoulders while everyone else tells you how awesome it is that you live in Berlin. But sometimes, even after more than a decade one can come across lovely looking places not seen before.
Walking down the narrow streets of Oranienburger Straße, I came across several small restaurants, bars and a shop that sold old comic books. Those dealing with East and West Berlin caught my attention. One of the booklets was titled something like: ‘Over There’, with reference to the glorious west. An antique item indeed.
My walk led me past a synagogue, its golden roof shining in the afternoon sun, guarded by several policemen and barriers around the building. That has always been that way. Don’t think you can just simply walk into a synagogue these days like you would walk into a church.
Finally, around 7 p.m. I entered a small bar called Buchhandlung, meaning book store. When I first read about it, I expected something like the café in Pristina called Dit’ e Nat’, a place that not only sells drinks and pastry but also books.
Cafeteria Buchhandlung however, was just a small, lovely place that did not sell any books but had several collage portraits of German authors, including Kurt Tucholsky. I wonder whether he got that spot on the wall in honor of Tucholsky Street, right outside the door.
“Are you here for the language exchange”, asked a young man who entered the place after me? He looked just as lost as I did. For several minutes I was standing outside, debating whether I should go or not. Next to me stood a group of Asian girls, talking to each other in broken German. I found the event at couchsurfing.org, where I am a member since a few days ago. The idea was for internationals to meet up, sit a table together and chat in a common language every Monday from 7-11 p.m.
In the end, thirst and curiosity won over me. Where is everybody, I thought to myself? How would I even know where the group is?
Just as my eyes went up and down the small room, I spotted a guest book open to a page with a very amusing entry on it.
“Don’t sell your soul to the Russians.” What a piece of advice to live by. Sounds like someone was speaking from experience…
Hiding my laughter as well as I could, I asked the French waitress for a Ginger Ale and a cup of ice at the bar. Now, some people seemed to have gathered and a man who just took a seat at the table behind me, with a bowl of pasta in his hand, asked me to join the group.
The conversation started out as it usually does among foreigners. Where are you from? What are you doing here? How do you like it here? But at least that is a start. I mean, what would you say to a local to start a conversation?
The first person I met was Andrew. A tourist from the U.S. I must say that was the first American I met in Berlin personally. Up until that afternoon, when more and more people joined our group, clinking their glasses of beer and woodruff syrup ( a beer drink very typical for Berlin), I thought that the only foreigners Berlin really had to offer were Turks, Arabs, Russians and Polaks. As the meeting went along I met people from Taiwan, Chile, India and many more.
Here is, yet again, to Berlin’s cultural diversity.
The organizers of the event seemed not to be around but that did not stop us. As originally planned, we sat down and started to talk about pretty much everything. Even my Spanish skills came in use that night. Some people were tourists, some came to study and others, like another American fellow, were lucky enough to find a job.
“Saudi Arabia? Wow! Never been there. How is Saudi Arabia?” I guess if that were to be an exam question, I’d fail the exam. People usually never asked me how Saudi was in general. Everyone had specific questions ready but this time, I was gathering my Spanish vocabulary, trying to explain how Saudi Arabia was like without any particular point to approach. I should really try to come past the sentence “not as bad as people say it is”.
The minutes passed and the place was full to the maximum. Not only the café itself but even the narrow street in front of it. Two Germans were squeezing their way through our group saying “Oh look, a home-time party”.
All in all, I’d say this was a great idea, even though a bar with music playing at high volume may not be the ideal place to have a conversation but the alternatives are small. In case you are in Berlin and want to practice English, or what else is offered, it’s surely worth a visit!